Helen Bradford Thompson
Researched and written by: Donald F. Kneessi
|I attest that the following biography is a
product of my own original
- She was born in Chicago,
David Wallace Thompson and Isabella Perkins Thompson on November 6, 1874. Her father was a shoe manufacturer and her
mother a homemaker (Ragsdale, N/D).
- Helen and her two
sisters all attended college. After graduating from Englewood
she enrolled at the University
of Chicago. She received
her both her undergraduate degree (1987) and her Ph.D (1900) at the University
of Chicago (Ragsdale, ND).
- Her major professors
were James Rowland Angell and John Dewey. John
Dewey called her one of his most brilliant students (Ragsdale, N/D).
- She was the first
experimental test of the Darwinian notion that women were biologically
inferior to men. Back then this notion was
considered so obvious that everyone new this for a fact and no research
study had to be conducted to prove it (James cited in Schultz &
Shultz, 2004). Wooley decided to do her
own experiment and administered a series of test to 25 males and 25
female subjects to measure motor abilities, sensory threshold,
intellectual abilities, and personality traits.
- The results from her
research showed no sex differences in emotional functioning and only
small non significant differences in intellectual abilities. Her data also showed that women were slightly
superior to men when it came to abilities such as memory and sensory
perception. Woolley took the unprecedented
step of attribution these differences to social and environmental
factors, the differences in child-rearing practices and expectations
for boys and girls; rather than to biological determinants (Rossiter
cited in Schultz & Shultz, 2004).
- In 1903, she
published her doctoral dissertation, entitled Psychological Norms
in Men and Women, written under the supervision of James Angell
- When she left the University
of Chicago she received a
fellowship from the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, to study in Paris
and Berlin for a year.
She then returned to the U.S.
and began teaching at Mount Holyoke
College. In 1902, she became director of its
psychological laboratory and professor of psychology (Ragsdale, N/D).
- As a graduate
student she had become engaged to Dr. Paul Gerhardt Woolley at the University
of Chicago and in 1905, she
left her positions and went to Japan
to marry him and then moved to the Philippines
to live where he was working. Helen worked for the Philippines Bureau
of Education as an experimental psychologist (Ragsdale, N/D).
- Her husband moved to
to head a new serum laboratory, she followed him there. In 1907, she
became the chief inspector of health (Ragsdale, N/D).
- Then in1908, she and
her husband moved back to the United
States, living in Nebraska
for a year before settling in Cincinnati. At the University
of Cincinnati, Helen became
an instructor of philosophy from 1909-1911. She
fought hard for the causes in which she believed in.
When an African American was not allowed
to enter a professional meeting that she was attending, in protest, she
lead a group out of the hotel where it was being held. She was a
women's rights activist, a member and chairperson at one point of the
Ohio Woman Suffrage Association (Ragsdale, N/D).
- Helen accepted the
directorship of the vocation bureau of public school system. She was concerned with child welfare issues
- Her research on the
effects of child labor led to changes in the states labor laws. In many states children as young as 8 were
working 10 hour shifts 6 days a week in factories.
Few states had protective legislation
regarding age, working hours, or minimum wages for children. In 1921, she served as president of the
National vocational guidance association (Schultz & Shultz, 2004)
- In the same year
(1921), she and her husband relocated to Detroit
she joined the staff of the Merrill-Palmer Institute and established a
nursery school program to study child development and mental abilities
- In 1924, at Columbia
she became director of the new Institute
of Child Welfare Research. As the new direction she still continued her
work on learning in early childhood, vocational education, and school
guidance counseling (Ragsdale, N/D).
- Wolley published her
results from her study in the Mental Traits of Sex: An
experimental Investigation of the Normal Mind in Men in Woman. Her
results from her study were not well liked by male academic
psychologist. G Stanley Hall accused her
of “giving a feminist interpretation of the data” (Hall cited in
Schultz & Shultz, 2004). The reason
men were questioning her results was because it was research done by a
woman that showed women were not biologically inferior to men.
- She later wrote two
reviews of the growing research literature on the psychology of sex
differences for the journal Psychological Bulletin (Schultz
& Shultz, 2004).
- She was able to work
as a teacher, researcher, and mentor for female psychologist in the
areas of child development and education for thirty years.
When she was forced to retired due to poor
health and a nasty divorce, the focus of women’s psychology was passed
on to others to work on (Schultz & Shultz, 2004).
D. P., & Schultz, S.
E. (2004). A History of Modern
p. 190-191. Belmont,
Ragsdale, S. (N/D). Helen Bradford Thompson